Pope Pius XII and Mary’s August Mysteries

“The Most Blessed Virgin is queen not only because she is Mother of God, but also because, as the new Eve, she was associated with the new Adam.”

Stephanie Mann Blog, August 15, 2018

On Nov. 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus. He proclaimed Aug. 15 a Holyday of Obligation as a Solemnity. Less than four years later, on Oct. 11, 1954, Pope Pius XII established the memorial of the Queenship of Mary in the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, to be celebrated on May 31. Since the revision of the Roman Calendar in 1970, that memorial has marked the Octave of the Assumption on Aug. 22, making the connection between the two Marian doctrines clear.

In both of these papal documents, Pius XII emphasized the collegial aspect of these proclamations, presented the tradition of the Church from the Fathers and other theologians, cited the Church’s liturgy, and even noted the artistic representations of Mary’s Assumption and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth. He also urged greater devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and expressed his hope that such devotion would lead to greater peace in the world, as Catholics imitated the virtues of the Mother of God and prayed for her intercession.

In these two documents Pope Pius XII clearly set out what was being taught, why it was being taught, by what authority it was being taught, and how the Church, ordained and lay, should respond to what was being taught.

Polling the Bishops; Consulting the Saints

In 1946, the pope wrote to all the bishops and asked them, “Do you, venerable brethren, in your outstanding wisdom and prudence, judge that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin can be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith? Do you, with your clergy and people, desire it?” In the 1950 apostolic constitution he reported that he received “an almost unanimous affirmative response” to these questions, noting that after the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was decreed in the 19th century, many in the Church had thought her Assumption should be defined as doctrine too.

As Pope Pius explained, since Mary was conceived without sin, she “was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.” He referred to the paintings of Mary assumed into Heaven, the practice of meditating on her Assumption as the fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, and prayers in the liturgy, both East and West, that attested to this doctrine.

But Pius XII warned that the liturgy does not determine doctrine but follows doctrine. Therefore he looked to the Fathers of the Church to demonstrate that “they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and accepted by Christ’s faithful.” After citing St. John Damascene, he mentions St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople from 715 to 730, whom Pope Benedict XVI described in a 2009 General Audience as one “of the great champions of sacred images drafted by the Second Council of Nicaea, the seventh Ecumenical Council (787).” These Eastern saints referred to the Dormition of Our Lady, her falling asleep and then being taken to Heaven.

Turning to the Western Church, Pope Pius names a litany of great theologians and saints: St. Anthony of Padua, St. Albert the Great, the Angelic and Seraphic Doctors (St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure), St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Peter Canisius. All of them believed that the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.

He affirmed that this cloud of witnesses based this teaching on the Church’s knowledge and interpretation of Scripture. Therefore, Pope Pius XII infallibly pronounced, declared and defined “it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” He furthermore warned that “if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

“Amid the heavenly choirs of angels and Saints”

In his teaching about the Queenship of Mary nearly four years later, Pope Pius XII referred to his 1950 document and also alluded to Ineffabilis Deus, the Apostolic Constitution through which Pope Pius IX had proclaimed the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, noting that it was almost the centennial of that document, issued on Dec. 8, 1854. He had announced a Marian Year for that centennial and was pleased “to bring the Year of Mary to a happy and beneficial conclusion” and “to institute the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen.”

Pope Pius emphasized that he was proclaiming nothing new by instituting this feast; Mary had been honored as Queen throughout the centuries. As in Munificentissimus Deus, he cited liturgical prayer, the Rosary (the fifth Glorious Mystery) and artistic representations of her Coronation. He specifically mentioned the Litany of Loreto, with its regal salutations…

Queen of Angels, pray for us.

Queen of Patriarchs, pray for us.

Queen of Prophets, pray for us.

Queen of Apostles, pray for us.

Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.

Queen of Confessors, pray for us.

Queen of Virgins, pray for us.

Queen of all Saints, pray for us.

Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us.

Queen assumed into heaven, pray for us.

Queen of the most holy Rosary, pray for us.

Queen of families, pray for us.

Queen of peace, pray for us.

…and the four Marian antiphons chanted after Compline.

When citing the saints and theologians of the Church who have proclaimed Mary’s Queenship, the Pope mentions St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Gregory Nazianzen, Origen, St. Jerome, St. Peter Chrysologus, Epiphanius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, St. Sophrinius, St. Germanus, St. John Damascene, and St. Ildephonsus of Toledo. His list of predecessor popes is no less impressive: Pope St. Martin I, Pope St. Gregory II, Pope St. Agatho (the seventh century pope who oversaw the Third Council of Constantinople—the Seventh Ecumenical Council—which condemned monothelitism, the heretical teaching that Jesus had only one will, in 681), Sixtus IV, Benedict XIV, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, and Pope Pius XI. With all these witnesses, Pope Pius XII develops an argument that Mary is Queen, concluding “that as Christ, the new Adam, must be called a King not merely because He is Son of God, but also because He is our Redeemer, so, analogously, the Most Blessed Virgin is queen not only because she is Mother of God, but also because, as the new Eve, she was associated with the new Adam.”

A Warning and A Renewal

The Pope ends his encyclical with a warning to theologians and preachers not to “stray from the correct course, with a twofold error to guard against”: to “beware of unfounded opinions and exaggerated expressions which go beyond the truth” and to “watch out for excessive narrowness of mind” in acknowledging Mary’s regal role. He also asked that the “consecration of the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary be renewed,” which he had first accomplished on Oct. 31, 1942.

These two documents demonstrate Pope Pius XII’s deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and his efforts to inculcate that devotion among Catholics.